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The 5 R's of Zero Waste

Updated: Jul 14, 2021

What is Zero Waste?

There is no formal definition of zero waste; it’s a lifestyle, ethos, goal all with the same end be more mindful about everyday items you purchase and their end use. We as a society have grown so accustomed to being able to purchase almost anything on the go in an easy, disposable container. Many consumers are changing their habits and trying to adopt a zero waste lifestyle in order to combat the plastic pollution problem. In the U.S. alone, a study in 2017 stated that there were 3.7 million pounds of waste on the coasts with most being from plastic.

The 5 R’s of zero waste were created by Bea Johnson is the author of Zero Waste Home. She advocates for a zero waste lifestyle by following the 5 R’s; Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot . I’ve provided my own take on these R’s, but generally, here’s how it works:

Refuse what you don’t need

The Refuse step involves saying no to single use plastics such as bags, straws and utensils, and extends to random magazines and junk mail that ultimately ends up in your garbage.

Politely refuse these single-use products when at your favorite establishment or call the number on the magazine a

nd ask them to stop sending it to you. A clothing company sent me a catalog the other day, and I called the number on the back and left my name and address with the message of please remove me from your mailing list. Easy peasy.

It’s also important to say “yes” to sustainable options such as shopping package-free (at Eco Inspired!) and farmers markets where you can bring your own containers and bags.

Reduce what you do need

Applying step 2 can mean assessing what you need and getting rid of (aka donating) what you don’t. Have you ever just bought stuff to buy it? I’ve moved around so many times and bought cheap furniture just to fill up a room, only to sell it a year later when I move to another apartment. I’ve wasted so much money and never really needed any of these things, so I shouldn’t have bought them in the first place.

It can also mean reducing impulse purchases that many times are forgotten about or thrown away in favor of more conscious consumerism. In a world where everything is at the touch of our fingers (many of us literally have a mini computer in our purse/pocket), forming new purchasing habits can be better for mother earth.

Reuse by using reusables

MASON JARS GALORE! This is my favorite step and one that I love sharing with people. Swapping out single use items for lasting alternatives. This step becomes very habit forming, but once you get the reusables bug, you’re in it a good way!

Bring your own reusable straw, silverware, cloth napkins, containers, jars for bulk items; the list can go on and on!

Getting a sustainable steel water bottle will break your dependency on plastic water bottles and save you money. Another #simplesustainableswap is to switch from disposable napkins to reusable cloth ones (and let’s be honest they are much more aesthetically pleasing).

Eco Inspired will offer many of the swaps you need to start your reusables journey!

Recycle what you can’t refuse, reduce, or reuse

This step really focuses on re-thinking how we view recycling. We can’t recycle our way out of the global plastic pollution problem and need to focus on refusing, reducing, and reusing first. Recycling is confusing; what numbers can I recycle? What does single-stream recycling mean?. It’s hard to know, right?! Many people wishcycle by throwing things in the recycle bin that they wish are recyclable. Some of these items can contaminate actual recyclable materials making them un-recyclable. P.S. an umbrella is not recyclable.

Rot the rest

COMPOSTING!!!! Get a compost bin! You can buy one or make one (check out Composting for a New Generation - seriously so helpful!) and it diverts so much waste. 63 million tons of food is thrown into a landfill each year in the United States. Putting your fruits and veggies into the compost instead of the trash can will help reduce that number AND save you money by using less (compostable) trash bags.

For outdoor composts you have to be careful as to what you put in the bin. Fruits and veggies, eggshells, coffee grounds, and leaves are excellent brown and green matter that makes the compost bin hot and happy (more blogs on composting to come)!

Indoor composting is a little more “earthy” and known as vermicomposting. Essentially, worms eat all your yummy brown and green matter and digest it to make fertilizer for your plants! This is a great kid project too, as the bin can live outside.


I hope this was informative and got you thinking about how applying the 5’s can help you in #livingecoinspired.

Be Kind,


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